Jacob Black knew no Russian, of course. He had some French, smatterings of Yiddish, and even less Spanish. Dosvedanya, spaceba, tovarich, mir, strasvitya, and proper names: that was it. Russian could not be the language which bled through his speech, to stain the fabric of his English.
He lit a cigarette and sat smoking, with his office door closed and the high rise window wrenched open, releasing his few puffs out into the city’s air. The night before, with his wife still puttering in the kitchen, he had watched again on video a film in French about Hiroshima. Rachel came to the door of the living room, her dark hair framing her face, the wry smiling mouth, the dark eyebrows, and she’d held up a dish cloth for drying, but he was too far gone. Later, he said, and his eyes focussed back on the movie--its indelible beginning, tu n’a rien vu a Hiroshima: you saw nothing at Hiroshima. The images of lovers’ bodies were riddled, porous, their texture smoky then slick with oil and sweat. And always the immolated field which was the city--eighty thousand injured in nine seconds. Two hundred thousand dead. What was there to cry about at Hiroshima? The anguish of forgetting, the taste of your blood, of your name, Hiroshima, ton nom est Hiroshima.
A final plume from his cigarette headed for the wrenched window, drifting through the conditioned air of his office boxed in by his books on shelves. Yes, it was French, not Russian, which would more likely bleed and stain his writing.
Jacob emerged into the hall. Were he an eagle or a swan, he thought, he’d fly out into the morning sky. In the event, with his eyes blazing at the walls, he glided to Robert Sinclair’s office.
“How are things?” Jacob said as he sat down.
“Please,” Robert smiled wanly, “you needn’t ask.”
“Fasker just called with another of his good ideas: I’ll be joining you to meet our Russian visitor next month.” Jacob did not suppress the slight moan in his voice.
“Why must he exact this from you now? He can’t resist temptation, the bureaucrat!” Robert snapped. At his wrists and neck, the exposed skin was lightly crusted with psoriasis, gray and red.
“There’s nothing to be done.” Jacob stopped himself from reaching for the cigarettes in his pocket, and his eyes, wide-set and gray, looked around the neat, bare office. Always he felt welcomed here by Robert Sinclair, twenty years his senior, at once fatherly and fastidious.
In the sealed window, he saw himself hovering in air, a squinting witness to the experience of two Jews—Robert’s mother had been Jewish, and Jacob though agnostic was one hundred percent, but did it matter? Born in Cleveland, he was the product of a Sephardic mother from Istanbul, and his father had been an Ashkenazi from Lublin; in their headlong rush to assimilate, they had refused to teach him the Ladino and Yiddish they had spoken as children.
Jacob looked directly at his friend now: “Fasker can’t help but squeeze as tightly as possible; it’s who he is.”
That afternoon, on his way home, he emerged into the crisp October air, and before him stood the library. He mounted its steps. In the stacks he found a black-bound volume of the Russian poet’s work, oblique and incensed in its ironies and resistances. He leafed backwards through the slim book of translations; the Soviet regime was a thing of the past, but what was the future bringing, he wondered, chaos, more hurt and harm? He came to a poem of war, riddled with knowledge of holocaust, grieving and aflame: it was the voice of Goya, his eyes torn out by what he had seen, the killing fields barren of life; death had turned him into a Goya of pure grief.
* * *
“Welcome to our humble metropolis. Needless to say, it can’t be as alluring as New York or San Francisco, but I trust we’ll make your stay a pleasant one.” Donald Fasker, English Department chairman, shook hands with the visitor, as did the other men. The Russian embraced a woman in a red dress, Professor Frances Crawley, and then he turned back to Robert Sinclair, holding the man’s hand in his own.
“I was told you will be introducing me when I read,” he smiled. “Will you be, Robert?”
The group moved to the elevator, the chairman and Robert walking next to the Russian.
“We have a friend in common, I believe,” Robert said. “One of your translators, Joseph Whitfield.”
“Yes?” The Russian’s face brightened. “He’s done good work on my poems, you think?” he said.
“I think so. We were in college together. He’s a sensitive man.”
The elevator doors opened immediately when Jacob touched the call button. As they began the descent to the basement baggage area, an image from one of Jacob’s own poems came to him. People felt the fragility of their control over existence, as they plunged together in the hanging box--hence its decorum. Across one wall was a mirror. Everything here was reversed, this face that face, this breast that breast, this self that self.
“Your last name I cannot pronounce,” Frances spoke suddenly to the Russian in a high pitched cry. “May we call you by your first?”
In the chairman’s car, the Russian sat between Jacob and Frances in back, and Robert was in front with Donald. Robert turned so as to see the other passengers, and his red hands clutched the top of the seat. Frances leaned forward to discuss the next day’s tight schedule. Her hand rested steadily on the Russian’s knee.
“I hope,” the poet said, “there will be time to visit a class. I would like to see American students. Frances, are you teaching tomorrow?”
“Unfortunately not,” she said.
The car lurched to a stop. The chairman turned for a moment to the visitor. “I believe Jacob has a class in the morning; I know he’d be pleased to have you there. A teaching visitation committee is due to observe him anyway, and you could be added to it. Isn’t that a good idea, Jacob?”
The young teacher mumbled something from the back, and Frances spoke up: “I’m one of your visitors tomorrow, Jacob. Why can’t our poet keep us all company?”
* * *
He carefully watched her eyebrows draw apart, then together. Her lips searched for his, and her dark hair was spread back. He kissed the slender brows. His was the body of an animal, a satyr. His tongue sought her mouth and entered with its own yearning rhythm of resuscitation, mouth to mouth. He lifted her awkwardly up and on top of him, and now in the November night she rasped out to Jacob: “You’re a soldier come back in time. Israeli. Would you save me? Would you save me?”
He saw, dismayed, the ashen field and the furnace of flame as now they made this love.
“I would free you. I would free you.”
Jacob and Rachel slept then through the night, curved about each other for warmth. Her uneven breaths would remind him that she was the child of survivors. His hairy, angular arms and legs wrapped around her, assured her that she was entitled to breathe, to endure.
Later, in the dawn’s first whitening, she awoke, and he sensed her waking. In bed, he held his head on his hand to stare at her opening, dark brown eyes.
“I had my dream,” she said. “Again.”
“My dream,” she stared back at the distant consolation his gray eyes offered. “Outside a city, there is a steep path running down into bare, ravaged fields with felled trees, burnt stumps. A flattened land, an Auschwitz, yet somehow it’s regrown, with green weeds and bushes.” She stopped. “You know I’m afraid to tell you some things.”
“Don’t say it.”
“I want to, Jacob.”
“Not now. Please, Rachel. Keep telling me your dream.” He nestled his head closer to her, his face against her hair, his eyes closed.
* * *
“For the uncontrolled, there can be no wisdom,” Jacob read. He asked what the epigram meant. There were almost thirty young people seated in front of him, with a few auditors among them, gray headed, wizened even: his elders, especially one white haired man, wry, Jewish, almost always staying after with a word of encouragement, a quizzical remark, a stray revelation. And there was the visitation committee, of course, seated in back.
A boy’s hand waved in the air. “Well, there’s certainly a biblical feel to it. What we have here is just a replay of Cain’s sin; these vengeful, indulgent characters are all of the race of Cain.”
“But how does the epigram tie into your thinking? Control and wisdom?”
The student stared blankly at the teacher, and a young woman calmly raised her hand, saying: “Control of the will is what the novel’s epigram is about; it helps one to endure what is terrible in life, even in oneself.”
“Yes,” Jacob began, “yes,” but a second young man interrupted.
“I thought the novel wasn’t biblical or moral in any way, and the epigram didn’t make a lot of sense for me.” He sat hunched at his desk, but at ease. “If there is control in the work, it’s the sort that a killer or a rapist could be said to have; really, it’s no control at all. Just the sick self-centeredness that’s typical in our society.”
Jacob’s wide-set eyes took in the young man and the calm young woman. Here were the goat’s grumble, the lion’s roar, the lamb’s bleat--a whole symphony already. And here was his turn.
“You’re each pointing, I think, to a tension in the novel and the epigram. Here is a work filled with images of vengeance--the hideous revenge on children, for example--and there are the images of sexual violation. Yet the epigram speaks of control in the midst of the excesses, even the endurance and wisdom control yields. Early on, the nameless narrator wanders over the barren fields of an island or among isolated towns, and either he is controlled and toyed with by people, or he is the controlling force. In each case, the concern with control is tied to some violation. That’s the central tension in the novel, the link between the capacity for viciousness and the concern with...”
An elegant, young Black woman laughed. “I just wonder how you can speak seriously of this sick piece of trash! I wonder how you could require it for a college class. I felt dirtied by it. Really, it belongs on the drugstore pornography rack!” In her hand she took the paperback novel by a survivor of the Holocaust and threw it at the podium. The book slapped against the chalkboard and fell to the floor at Jacob’s feet.
The class--young and old alike--stared at him. In the rear, the eyes of the committee wavered, the Russian sat grinning, and snow whipped against the back windows. What next, Jacob said under his breath, what next?
“I understand what you’re feeling, and the question I need to ask, for each of us, is what’s the significance of our responses to the work.” Jacob picked up the book; sadness and compassion welled in him, and he stepped off the platform to place the novel on the girl’s desk. “What does each of our responses--whether rage or acceptance--say to us about ourselves? Maybe self-examination is an impact, a value of what otherwise is an assaulting, even disgusting work.” Jacob paced back and forth as he eyed his class. “But I think what we should try to think about now is what in the novel does seem assaulting to us. After all, aren’t there violations we face and enact in our daily existence? If we look closely at the lives we lead as citizens, lovers, parents and children, students and teachers, aren’t there things we do to each other and ourselves, which are painful even to acknowledge? What is it, then, that’s especially violating in this novel?”
The calm young woman with a pensive face mentioned the narrator’s cold-blooded voice.
“Yet I wonder in what sense the narrator’s voice could be seen as desperate, even vital?” Jacob asked. “In a sense, the question is: how does one narrate terrible, encompassing violation and oppression, even genocide?”
A girl--ordinary except for Slavic eyes, the eyes of an explorer--responded, and the recognitions ran on.
* * *
The students left through the doors in front. As the committee filed by, Frances, looking concerned, came to the podium. “Thanks for letting us visit,” she said; “I’ll be in touch with you later.” The Russian scampered behind her, and she offered the visitor a broad smile. He directed his own smile at Jacob and stepped from the floor onto the platform where the teacher stood. He reached out to shake Jacob’s hand.
“What pleasure!” the Russian beamed. “Thanks so much! You will come to lunch together, no?”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Jacob said, closing his briefcase and glancing at the short, white haired man, who waited in the aisle.
“Of course,” the Russian said. As Frances and he walked out the door, they waved.
The old man moved closer to the young teacher. Though nearly ninety, with his skin paper white, he was tentative and deferential. He had taken several of Jacob’s classes; staying after, he would talk with him about irony in Proust and Sholem Aleichem, about justice in Kafka, about I. L. Peretz (he had discovered that Jacob’s father had been called Peretz and had been born in Lublin, Poland: “Professor Black, you don’t realize it, but you’re a typical teacher of Lublin. There always they tried to balance the sophistication of Warsaw and the moral rigor of Vilna”).
“Oh, these students,” the old man said now, “the Black book-thrower, the boys, the girls. I watch their beautiful faces as they speak, and what I see gives me a mechaia; do you know what mechaia is? Chaia is birth, meh is again. A rebirth, that is what is in my heart, in my stomach, as I see their sweet searching faces and they answer what you ask.” Jacob decided to sit down at a desk in the front of the room. The old Jew stood by him.
“And you,” he continued, “what you do. You are one of those who the rabbis speak of. You offer your students the mysteries, the schmaltz, the real stuff.” His spit grazed the teacher’s face. “It’s wonderful, what you show them. In Yiddish we have a phrase...‘between the drops of dew.’ You show your students how to look there. You tickle them, you tickle their vanity, which is a good thing. They feel your respect for them; they feel you respect them enough to believe they too can see. It’s a wonderful, healthy thing for them”
The old man sat down beside Jacob, the skin of his thin forearms ghostly white against the desktop. His voice shot out in a whisper: “But most of them are only children. They have such wonderful potential, their faces, the souls of these fine children. Yet some of them cannot know even what you are asking of them, that you are asking them to do the work, to master already everything that comes first. You gave them the responsibility today to look among the imaginary leaves glistening with dew, where they can see the real thing, and you are a wonderful teacher for those who can look. But these are mainly children! You know what the rabbis say about the strong man: he is the one who controls his passion. You have a great passion for the real stuff, but you need to control it.”
“Yes, the same when one writes,” Jacob said, and suddenly he felt an odd, numbing anxiety, as if he himself had no identity, despite--or was it because of--the images projected onto him by this ancient man. Who was Jacob Black really, he wondered? Gratitude fought in him with a sense of nothingness and self-erasure.
“You make me think of Bialik’s essay on Adam’s cry.” The old man spoke dispassionately now. “Jacob Black, forgive me, but I believe I witness you at a moment of crisis, a crossroads, and I can’t help but think of Bialik’s explanation for why he stopped writing the poems of his youth. He discovered that the longing in them--his attempt to echo Adam’s cry--was met by all the dreck of the world, degrading and destroying it, the machers, the schnorrers, you know? So he refused to write his beautiful poetry. Instead he began to write essays, which he packed with all the hazzerai of Zionism flowing through him and around him.”
“Hello,” Donald Fasker walked into the classroom, “what is this, silent meditation?”
“Jesus,” Black said.
“Lunch!” Donald smiled. “The Russian is asking for you.”
* * *
“What did you think of Professor Black’s class this morning?” the Russian asked Frances. “Wasn’t it quite touching?”
“It was exciting. To reach the Black girl like that!” The entourage was approaching the auditorium; Jacob trailed in back.
The Russian laughed, and he shouted against the driven snow: “Frances, you have the spirit of a Muscovite. You visit me there someday.”
Inside, Robert Sinclair mounted to the stage and tested the microphone. His face glowed with exertion and embarrassment. Its red outshone that of his tie and the gray-red skin at his neck. Occasionally he would glance at the Russian who slumped in his chair.
The professor first introduced the reader of the translations and then the great poet. “This courageous Russian artist and citizen,” he called him: a survivor of the Soviet period, a spectacular poet, ironic and compassionate at once, a Russian Auden. The audience tightened in their seats.
“Our visitor has written, ‘the task of the poet is to look deep inside man.’ And in most basic terms, there are varieties of courage and cowardice, of life and of death to be found within. Death above all to the possibilities of life, even in those of us who are outwardly full of promise. And as his art asks us whether we are alive or in some way dead at the core, we feel grateful for those of his poems which are full not only with wit and beauty but with what Robert Lowell has called his ‘sorrowing sympathy,’ his understanding of our shared human struggle.”
The stout visitor rose from his chair and slouched to the podium. Applause roared out at him. His detached, architect’s voice breathed into the microphone that he would first recite a poem of war. The American reader intoned the translation. The words were familiar to Joseph. It was the poem he had lighted on in the library stacks.
“Ya Goya,” a deep, quick, welling cry shook the Russian’s frame, and reached out to assault the surrounding ears and bodies. “Nagoye.” Death streamed its blood before the audience. “Ya gore.” Executioners and victims alike, the listeners were pinned to their chairs by the shocking cry of the short man before them. “Ya golos.” Black’s body was tightly clenched. The poet was like the great musicians who streamed from Russia and sometimes stayed to stun the West, Oistrakh and Heifitz and Rostropovich, Horowitz and Richter and Gilels.
“I am Goya,” Jacob heard, and glared at the faces in the audience. Before him was the carnage. Donald, sitting fascinated, folded his hands low over his crotch. “Goda.” One colleague’s tall skeleton was rotted clean to the bone, his stare frozen in two directions at once. “Ya golod.” Another, his bones consumed, held his severed head up with an erect tongue. “Ya gorlo.” Still another, born without a body, bounced about his empty chair. “Goloi.” Frances did a shriekless war-dance in her seat, her body drenched with blood. “I am Goya.”
Stunned applause splattered and then poured out. The poet offered a benign smile.
* * *
It was day’s end, and he tramped from the bus stop down the snowbound suburban street. The November sun was setting, and he turned to climb a road a few blocks from his home. Aslant a hillside and embedded in the snow was Robert Sinclair’s house. Jacob knocked at the front door. The professor’s wife May opened the door. A television flickered in the living room. It was the hour before their dinner. In her veined hand, she took Jacob’s arm, and asked after his wife. A martini trembled in her other hand. She leaned forward to kiss his cheek, and he smelled her breath. She waved him up the stairs to Sinclair’s study, which opened onto a balcony outside.
Robert sat pouring brandy into a glass by his easy chair.
“Get yourself a glass,” he said to Jacob in the doorway and pointed to a cabinet by the windows. His shirtsleeves were rolled up. His forearms were crusted with patches of gray punctuated by sections of blood-red skin. A boundary of dark red showed at his neck, as if his head had been removed and roughly sewn back on. Robert smiled a toast to his friend.
Joseph began speaking of the Russian, mentioning the Goya poem, but avoiding the details of the day’s experience, the revelations, the grotesque details, the absurdities. He pulled cigarettes from his pocket: an addiction, one more of his maladies.
“You don’t mind?” he mumbled. He exhaled the smoke into the room he often visited, with its shelves of books reaching up a story and a half. There was a silence. Jacob realized that he shouldn’t have come to impose his burden. There was nothing to be done. He glanced at the glass door to the balcony and the hill beyond it. Robert began to speak. His voice seemed to emerge from the eruption of his trunk. Jacob could hardly hear all the words.
“I’ve said before, I know, that his translator was a friend of mine. Whitfield had a great deal of promise in those days. He wrote long poems about experiences which were vivid, though really quite obvious to all of us who read him then, in our late teens and twenties. He turned to translation, and he worked with Williamson, the Eliot scholar. He ended up translating several Russian poets. I don’t know, but something got lost in the meantime, and it’s that something which you’re trying to voice, I think. At moments I think I used to have it. And you have it, Jacob. I don’t want to embarrass you. But I’d like to help you locate what you seek. Let me tell you about one time when it seemed to come clear to me.”
Robert raised his glass, and Jacob rose to pour more brandy. The liquid coagulated in their glasses. The professor continued.
“Who can fully understand the journey we are all taking? During the spring of my second year at college, I had a brilliant teacher, Howard Nemerov. He’d just gotten an appointment at Chicago. He interested himself in my work, asked to see what I was writing, and he seemed to admire my poems and stories--and how I admired him! I am of course partly Jewish. Whatever is finally at the core for each of us, Jewishness--I believe--is only one ingredient of our identity, but for him being Jewish carried quite a charge, though his own work seldom mentioned it. The last day of the semester, he called me into his office; I remember the bare cubicle he was assigned and his large, noble, drawn face--red with drink, his eyes circled with the black of the night’s concentration. He spoke of his admiration for my youthful work, passages which seemed quite fine. But--he said--I never touched the core of who I was, Jew or not: I would never become a great writer.” Jacob sat appalled, his face pained; he reached his hand out and let it fall.
“Yes,” Robert said. “His judgment. That day, then the next on the train ride home, I was overcome. I passed through a sort of death, a striking at my very being. I won’t talk about that, except to say that I realized to the extent I was feeling this pain, to the extent I still struggled, I was alive. I write little now. We are here, Jacob, on this darkening plain. And we know what it is to feel: even to feel dead is yet to feel something--to be haunted by a vision of what is possible but not present, not here, not now. This is something. Not greatness, but something. Perhaps it is sickness. That summer, I was ill with rheumatic fever, and I saw clearer, I think, than I’d ever seen before. I saw what courage is needed, what truth is faced, when you pass through death. What is reborn from the carnage is what you’re seeking, what the Russian seeks, what we are all reaching for.”
Jacob’s throat contracted. Nothing would emerge. Inside him welled and surged all he’d heard from the Russian, the old Jew, and now Robert Sinclair. What next, he wondered? Then the words came. “Your pain, your spirit reaching for the truth, your enduring here for us. They’re a gift to us, even if we don’t know it.”
He told his friend he must go; Rachel was waiting with dinner. He put on his heavy overcoat and looked at the snowy hillside outside the balcony door, seeking some way of escape. Sinclair walked carefully down the hall and the stairs in front of Jacob. Husband and wife stood a distance away from him and from each other as they bade him good-bye.
* * *
After dinner, Jacob worked in his study, off the laundry room of their rented duplex. His mind hummed with the day’s events, and simultaneously a poem began to assert itself, receding, then resounding, word by word, phrase by phrase. Hum and poem sometimes joined in a single perception that all about him he felt a refusal to perceive--the past, the present, the future, what have you. Everyone lived now post-holocaust; they’d all arrived at the door slammed shut of memory and perception, of language and love. What was there left to cry about at Hiroshima, at Auschwitz, at the Ukrainian lake and Babi Yar? Rien. A nothingness. Nothing. What was left for any of them to say, to do, for him, for Rachel, for the Russian poet, for the ancient Jew who was not his student but his teacher really, for Sinclair, Crawley, Fasker? Tu n’a rien vu a Hiroshima. Jacob mouthed each word from the film he’d seen, wanting to resuscitate the breath and savor of each sound and image. Depuis longtemps, depuis longtemps: after awhile, after a long time. Ton nom est Hiroshima, nous devenons Hiroshima: your name is--we become--after awhile--Hiroshima.
Rachel stood at the open door with her dark hair lit by the laundry room bulb. Across from his desk, she sat down in the reading chair, her body slender and small.
“Why so quiet at dinner? Why depressed?”
“It’s nothing,” he said. His mouth seemed to shut when he yearned to speak, and his poems made up for his anxious selfishness with words in life.
“What happened at the Russian’s poetry reading? You never said.”
Jacob started to describe the recitation, withholding again the rage and gore of his own response. Instead he told her of a poem about Chagall, which the Russian sang and shouted in the tilted hall, and another about a Ukrainian site of the Holocaust.
“This poet isn’t Jewish?” Rachel mumbled. “He’s a mensch. But that’s not what’s bothering you. Tell me, Jacob.”
Again, he spoke of his day, the visitation committee observing him teach--with the Russian in tow--and afterwards the old Jew’s haunting and generous remarks. Rachel sat curled quietly in the easy chair across from him, listening to the strange upwelling of words, the painstaking detail. He told her that Frances Crawley had come to his office in the late afternoon to offer the committee’s first impressions. “Certainly an adequate session. Naturally, there are things you might do differently. One of our members,” she had said, “believes you’re more interested in conveying impressions than in analyzing literature. Of course, we all noticed how much you encourage student responses. But I think that effectively gets them involved. More carrot than stick! Why not?”
“The idiots,” Rachel spit out, “the bureaucrats!” He stopped talking, and in the silence she stood and walked around the desk to him. Theirs was a marriage in which she spoke the words he could not, and he or his poems seemed to speak for her. Standing next to him, yet not touching, she stared down at the man with whom she was entwined. She let her fingers drift over the desk and the paper with its network of fragmentary lines and phrases.
“Those fools shouldn’t mean a thing to you. I know they can hurt, but do they really mean anything to you? What’s important is your poems, is your heart, your soul. That’s what’s important in everything we share together. When we’re together, when I become you and you become me.” Her fingers gently brushed his face now, his cheek, his hair, his ear. “There is no difference. Your pain, my joy. My pain, your joy are interchangeable.” Jacob’s hands reached to hold Rachel, to pull her to his lap. But she stood by him unperturbed, her body still and resistant.
“You know, Jacob, if we’re going to have child, I have to soon. This year I...”
“No, no,” he moaned, his hands slackening, “let’s not talk about it now.” He stood up, rising above her, and he walked around to the reading chair. He slumped down in it, and she sat in his chair at the desk.
“I want us to have a child.”
“Don’t say it, Rachel,” he said. “How can we bring children into such a world?”
“How can’t we? Think of my parents. They lived through Auschwitz--died through Auschwitz. They were children: think of how they felt. But then they met, and they had me. Who are you to deny our child life?”
* * *
He floated out into the darkened suburb, the tails of his overcoat fluttering in the snow behind him. He sought his bearings in the frozen air. His feet left their deep imprint in the new snow on the sidewalk. Frances Crawley’s house arose to one side, and he blazed a trail up her unshovelled driveway. Weightless flakes drifted into his face as he peered through the side windows into her house. He felt he must see what was sealed within, yet it was pitch dark and he knew it was folly: he was apart, sealed out.
He cut across her whitened lawn to the street, and he sought the road ascending to Sinclair’s house. Avoiding the stairs to the front door, he struggled further up the hill, and he stood trembling on a ledge of snow by the balcony window. A light was on in Robert Sinclair’s study, and Jacob looked through the glass. Sinclair sat in his chair, his shirt loosely open. He was holding his burning hand up to his reddened neck. His face tilted back, facing the wall of books. His eyes were shut, and his mouth gasped for air, which the sleeping man breathed in heavy gulps.
Jacob’s throat began to cry out in a low moan. He let himself leap free of the balcony ledge. He flew through the freezing air, falling to the snow bank just below. His face squashed into the thick crust of snow, and blood sprang from his mouth.
He wandered in circles through drifts of snow covering the hill and then the bare still streets. Nearby was Fasker’s house now, ablaze still at the end of a party for the Russian. Avoiding the shoveled walk and drive, Jacob pushed through the snowy lawn to the chairman’s lit front window. In the living room, the familiar crowd was thinning. They seemed actors on a stage, beaming silently at each other, oblivious to their audience of one, who gazed through the glass and gauzy curtains. He let go of the icy bush he held and kneeled slowly into the snow. He felt himself disappearing into the whitened lawn, the tableau of snow before the glass, the darkened street.
Voices clattered into the driveway. Jacob crawled unseen across the snowy yard. He stood in the sidewalk, stepped into the street, and jogged slowly down the block. A car approached in back of him, and turning, he saw that it was Frances driving the Russian poet.
“Are you going to stop or not?” Jacob spit out.
“Are you all right?” Frances asked.
The Russian mumbled to her, and the car stopped altogether. The poet leaned in front of her to speak through the narrow opening of the window. Frances slipped her arm inside his open coat.
“Jacob, hello,” the passenger boomed. “We missed you. Can we drive you anywhere? Are you hurt?”
“I had a fall as I walked. It’s okay now. I’m almost home.”
The Russian opened his door and came around the front of the car. He stood breathing clouds of steam next to Jacob in the center of the street. The visitor looked at the torn pants, the mouth. He came closer. His hands gripped the other man’s arms.
“Jacob Black,” he said, “you are a fine and decent man. Jews and Russians, so much in common, yet such terrible things have been done. Joyce was right, no?--history is a nightmare. You are a...what is it you Jews say? I can’t remember.” The Russian leaned forward to hug him and kiss his cheeks. “All I know is you don’t kill the souls of those around you.” Then he dodged back into the car which billowed down the street.
Jacob stood alone now in the snow. Tu n’a rien vu a Hiroshima. He tasted the blood in his mouth. You saw nothing at Hiroshima. Nothing.
My torn tongue
Is corroded by
Its own radiant code.
Is this the gap
Made in the mouth
By mute immolation
And toungueless pain?
He trudged home through the bare ice-bound streets, skidding on glazed patches, bruising his knees and hands as he fell. When cars passed, he sought the shadows. Veering back and forth between the center and the curb, Jacob heard the voices of his days and nights, their images, and the words he fathered into being.
After a time--
Like sex so richly
Slowly so darkly
The taste of words
In the riddled mouth.
Ton nom est Hiroshima. That would be the title. Your name is Hiroshima. Flawed by alcohol and the taste of blood, yes, it would do for now, before another birth, wailing, bloody, flesh of his flesh. His toes were freezing. His face was swollen and open to the night.
My tongue aches
With your name Hiroshima.
My mouth mouths
Riddled with love,
We become Hiroshima.
About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art
My newly completed novel is The Fall of the Berlin Wall, about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. My 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962, which is as yet unpublished. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[These blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]
[These blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]